Fears grow over threat to freedom in elections

Bosnia's shaky peace: Amid concern that poll will confirm warmongers' hold on power, PM sounds out Karadzic's opponents

Less than four months before the first post-war general elections in Bosnia, international observers and Bosnian Muslim officials are raising the alarm over whether the vote will be free and fair. Still worse, many fear that even if the elections go ahead, their main effect will be to consolidate Bosnia's de facto partition into three national zones - Muslim, Serb and Croat.

The International Helsinki Federation, a leading human rights group, called last Thursday for the vote to be postponed, saying that to hold it by 14 September as foreseen in the Dayton peace agreement would merely confirm the dominance of the nationalist political forces that sparked the war.

"It is seriously to be feared that one will see cemented the practices of ethnic separation, and that the people who led the war will continue to decide the fate of Bosnia-Herzegovina," said Dardan Gashi, a consultant for the group.

The United States, Britain, France, Germany and Russia are expected to meet the leaders of Bosnia, Croatia and Serbia in Geneva soon to press for full compliance with civilian aspects of the Dayton agreement, including the return of refugees and the holding of free elections. The meeting will address international concerns that none of the three former combatants is doing as much as is necessary to avert the risk of Bosnia's three-way partition.

Bosnia's Muslim president, Alija Izetbegovic, and his colleagues, argue that the elections should not take place unless Radovan Karadzic and General Ratko Mladic, the Bosnian Serb leaders charged with war crimes, have given up office.

They say the two men are certain to manipulate the vote if still on the scene, and point out that the Dayton agreement calls for the removal of indicted war criminals. However, among countries with troops in the 60,000-strong Nato-led peace implementation force in Bosnia, the US in particular seems unwilling to make elections conditional on the fate of Messrs Karadzic and Mladic. The State Department spokes-man, Nicholas Burns, said on Wednesday that as long as Mr Karadzic was marginalised and confined to his headquarters at Pale, outside Sarajevo, "I think the elections can go forward and will go forward with him sitting in his bitter isolation".

As yet, however, Mr Karadzic is in anything but bitter isolation. Last weekend he beat off an attempt by Carl Bildt, the international High Representative overseeing the civilian aspects of Dayton, to push him out of power. Now he is threatening to stage a referendum among Bosnian Serbs to muster popular support for his opposition to the peace settlement.

Meanwhile, Gen Mladic attended the funeral of another Serb war crimes suspect in Belgrade on Tuesday, in his first public appearance outside Bosnian Serb territory since the war ended last December. The UN war crimes tribunal attacked Serbia for letting in the general, saying the Dayton settlement obliges signatories not to shield suspects on their soil.

Nato's Secretary-General, Javier Solana, denied yesterday that Western countries had tacitly agreed to let Messrs Karadzic and Mladic remain in Bosnian Serb territory so long as they withdrew from public view and shed most of their powers. However, Western officials acknowledge that there is little appetite for arresting the two men, lest it provoke an anti-Nato backlash among the Bosnian Serb population that could wreck the elections.

The US, Britain and other countries with troops in Bosnia want the elections to proceed on schedule for fear the Dayton timetable may disintegrate. Although they acknowledge Nato troops may have to stay in Bosnia beyond the original deadline of next December, Western governments do not want their presence in Bosnia to turn into an open-ended commitment.

The prospects for holding elections by mid-September were not improved yesterday by an announcement that municipal elections in Mostar, the southern city divided between Muslims and Croats, will be held in late June instead of the scheduled date of 31 May.

Mr Izetbegovic's Muslim-led party, the Party of Democratic Action, had previously refused to participate in the elections on the grounds that Muslim refugees from Mostar would be denied the chance to vote.

The city had a slight Muslim majority before the 1992-95 war, but after fighting broke out, Bosnian Croats declared it the capital of their self- styled mini-state, Herzeg-Bosnia.

Start your day with The Independent, sign up for daily news emails
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
ebooksA special investigation by Andy McSmith
  • Get to the point
Latest stories from i100
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
Independent Dating

By clicking 'Search' you
are agreeing to our
Terms of Use.

iJobs Job Widget
iJobs General

Ashdown Group: Senior Accounts Assistant - Accounts Payable - St. Albans

£26000 - £28000 per annum + benefits : Ashdown Group: Senior Accounts Assistan...

Ashdown Group: Treasury Assistant - Accounts Assistant - London, Old Street

£24000 - £26000 per annum + benefits : Ashdown Group: A highly successful, glo...

Recruitment Genius: Installation and Service / Security Engineer

£22000 - £40000 per annum: Recruitment Genius: This company is part of a Group...

Recruitment Genius: Service Charge Accounts Assistant

£16000 - £18000 per annum: Recruitment Genius: Are you a a young, dynamic pers...

Day In a Page

General Election 2015: Chuka Umunna on the benefits of immigration, humility – and his leader Ed Miliband

Chuka Umunna: A virus of racism runs through Ukip

The shadow business secretary on the benefits of immigration, humility – and his leader Ed Miliband
Yemen crisis: This exotic war will soon become Europe's problem

Yemen's exotic war will soon affect Europe

Terrorism and boatloads of desperate migrants will be the outcome of the Saudi air campaign, says Patrick Cockburn
Marginal Streets project aims to document voters in the run-up to the General Election

Marginal Streets project documents voters

Independent photographers Joseph Fox and Orlando Gili are uploading two portraits of constituents to their website for each day of the campaign
Game of Thrones: Visit the real-life kingdom of Westeros to see where violent history ends and telly tourism begins

The real-life kingdom of Westeros

Is there something a little uncomfortable about Game of Thrones shooting in Northern Ireland?
How to survive a social-media mauling, by the tough women of Twitter

How to survive a Twitter mauling

Mary Beard, Caroline Criado-Perez, Louise Mensch, Bunny La Roche and Courtney Barrasford reveal how to trounce the trolls
Gallipoli centenary: At dawn, the young remember the young who perished in one of the First World War's bloodiest battles

At dawn, the young remember the young

A century ago, soldiers of the Empire – many no more than boys – spilt on to Gallipoli’s beaches. On this 100th Anzac Day, there are personal, poetic tributes to their sacrifice
Dissent is slowly building against the billions spent on presidential campaigns – even among politicians themselves

Follow the money as never before

Dissent is slowly building against the billions spent on presidential campaigns – even among politicians themselves, reports Rupert Cornwell
Samuel West interview: The actor and director on austerity, unionisation, and not mentioning his famous parents

Samuel West interview

The actor and director on austerity, unionisation, and not mentioning his famous parents
General Election 2015: Imagine if the leading political parties were fashion labels

Imagine if the leading political parties were fashion labels

Fashion editor, Alexander Fury, on what the leaders' appearances tell us about them
Phumzile Mlambo-Ngcuka: Home can be the unsafest place for women

Phumzile Mlambo-Ngcuka: Home can be the unsafest place for women

The architect of the HeForShe movement and head of UN Women on the world's failure to combat domestic violence
Public relations as 'art'? Surely not

Confessions of a former PR man

The 'art' of public relations is being celebrated by the V&A museum, triggering some happy memories for DJ Taylor
Bill Granger recipes: Our chef succumbs to his sugar cravings with super-luxurious sweet treats

Bill Granger's luxurious sweet treats

Our chef loves to stop for 30 minutes to catch up on the day's gossip, while nibbling on something sweet
London Marathon 2015: Paula Radcliffe and the mother of all goodbyes

The mother of all goodbyes

Paula Radcliffe's farewell to the London Marathon will be a family affair
Everton vs Manchester United: Steven Naismith demands 'better' if Toffees are to upset the odds against United

Steven Naismith: 'We know we must do better'

The Everton forward explains the reasons behind club's decline this season
Arsenal vs Chelsea: Praise to Arsene Wenger for having the courage of his convictions

Michael Calvin's Last Word

Praise to Wenger for having the courage of his convictions